Trailhopper Tours - Exploring McLaren Vale

Trailhopper Tours - McLaren Vale, SA 5171

In Adelaide we are fortunate to be surrounded on almost all sides by world class wine regions. With McLaren Vale to the south, the Barossa to the North and the Hills awaiting in the east, there’s a massive list of wineries and varieties to explore. I (Dani) have always had a keen interest in these explorations and have always enjoyed a mini weekend adventure in pursuit of them however, transportation is often the key hindrance which stops me getting from home to the cellar door. Rather competitive games of rock/paper/scissors with my partner to see who will be the designated driver and the ‘herding cats’ frustration of organising enough people to fill a 12 seater minibus mean that trips to these regions can be quite infrequent at best.

View of McLaren Vale from Coriole Winery

Enter Trailhopper Tours. This clever company has realised that flexibility is key and has made every effort to facilitate your efforts towards becoming an amateur sommelier. You chose the region and how many people you would like to accompany you and book your tickets. Everyone who has booked for a particular date then meets the bus at the same CBD pick up location, but after that the day is yours. The tour allows enough time for 4 x 1 hour stops of your choice. If you wanted to take things a little more slowly, you can also choose to enjoy a leisurely long 2 hour stop for lunch and instead have 3 stops in total. The bus loops its way around the selected region and you can hop on and off at the cellar doors which are of most interest to you. At the end of the day the bus’s final loop picks everyone up and drops the relaxed collective back to the Adelaide CBD.

I had honestly looked at Trailhopper before this trip and made a mental note to check it out one day. When a girlfriend and I were looking for a way to chill out after a particularly big week, it seemed like it would be a perfect way of getting out of the city and into the rolling green hills of McLaren Vale. We booked for a sunny Saturday and after a few ‘Rainman’-esqe moments of attempting to work out the timetable, we selected 3 wineries to visit.

Trailhopper provided a comprehensive information pack, which explained the highlights of each of the 15 cellar doors which was really helpful in narrowing down our choices. A lot of the cellar doors won’t mind if you bring a picnic to enjoy on the winery grounds, but if you do want to have lunch made for you in the region you will need to book ahead (Trailhopper’s staff are more than happy to help you make a selection and booking if you’re a little unsure).

Come Saturday at 10:10am, we were all aboard and pulling out from the Stamford Hotel in the Adelaide CBD, to start the 45 minute journey south. Naomi, our guide for the day, immediately offered us complimentary water (essential for long days filled with vino) and gave us a friendly brief on Trailhopper’s expectations of us (essentially to stay safe and be on time) and what we could expect from them (punctuality, local tips and congenial support).

Alpha Box & Dice cellar door

As the sun crested over the verdant hills, we pulled up to Alpha Box & Dice, the first stop we had chosen. We waved goodbye to the bus and strolled up the gravel path to their quirky cellar door. In the dimly lit space, vintage lamps glowed golden across an eclectic array of antique adornments and piles of wine boxes lined the walls behind the simple wooden bench-top.

Inside the Alpha Box & Dice cellar door

As said, I’m fairly into my wines and I also genuinely enjoy the chance to move past the prescriptive cellar door script and into the more interesting, in-depth details of how each wine was created. Alpha Box staff were more than happy to share their exemplary knowledge and we happily sipped our way through their tasting options for the day. Their 2017 Semillon/Viognier or ‘Golden Mullet Fury’ thoroughly impressed us both in taste (a delicate white, which lingers on the palate thanks to a structured body formed by skin contact during fermentation) and name (idiosyncratic genius) and a souvenir bottle came back to the bus with us as it pulled up right on time at 12.03pm.

Golden Mullet Fury at Alpha Box & Dice

The timetable had informed us that we would be arriving at Coriole at 12.26pm and I must say I was rather impressed that we stepped off the bus just as the minute ticked over. Strolling through Coriole's stunning cottage gardens, we waltzed through the door of their sunlit restaurant and sat down to our 12.30pm lunch booking. Looking out over the McLaren Vale countryside we devoured a selection of stunningly fresh, well-balanced and carefully plated dishes whilst sipping on a glass of their Chenin Blanc (bright and refreshing, with a citric acidity). 

Gather at Coriole menu

Deceptively simple but utterly divine, a standout was our starter of Woodside chevre, sprinkled with pink peppercorns and drizzled in a citric olive oil. The sourdough crackers served on it’s side were tangy, salty and crisp - bringing to mind an Italian version of an Asian prawn cracker.

Chèvre, citrus, pink peppercorn, olive oil, sourdough cracker

Our two hour stop was more than enough time to enjoy a leisurely meal, take a stroll across the sweeping green lawns and even pop into the tasting room to try their cellar door-only Dancing Fig McLaren Vale Mourvedre Grenache Shiraz (a medium-bodied, spiced vanilla and red fruit driven blend with a firm tannic structure).

Coriole cellar door entrance

Just a short drive down the road, our last stop for the day was Maxwell Wines. To change things up for our palates, we decided to make our way through their mead tasting followed by dessert in their glass-walled dining area. The kitchen kindly let us pre-order our desserts before the tasting so we didn’t have to worry about our hour time constraint, though with their wood fire toasting the air and cellar door dogs eager for friendly pats, I honestly wasn’t that concerned about the prospect of staying longer!

The Maxwell meads are all made with local honey and fermented to an ample sweetness and high alcohol. The mead tasting flight allows you to taste all four of their varieties (sparkling, honey, spiced and liqueur) with each one being wonderfully spiced and moreish. As a particularly enjoyable end to our day, we then perched ourselves at the long wooden bench bordering the restaurant to contentedly nibble at our dessert. Maxwell Wines are noted for their impressive plating and their mousse-like spiced bavarois glistened under a perfect apple gel disc, surrounded by poached quince, crunchy cinnamon biscuit crumbs and a smooth quenelle of pear sorbet.

Spiced bavarois, quince & pear sorbet & cinnamon crunch at Maxwell's cellar door

A day in McLaren Vale tends to end with everyone in high spirits (either emotionally or chemically) and Trailhopper Tours kept our moods high with a very amusing impromptu karaoke session on the drive home. Ever considerate, Naomi ensured everyone had water to drink and even pulled over at a restroom so those with smaller bladders could quickly make a pit stop. We were deposited safe and sound on North Terrace, Adelaide and bid a fond farewell to our new singing buddies.

Trailerhopper bus

With tickets from just $59.95, Trailhopper Tours allows tourists and locals alike the chance to explore some of Australia’s best wine regions cheaply, safely and flexibly. I was very impressed by their exemplary customer service and am looking forward to future foraging expeditions in their company.

Coriole Vineyards Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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